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A coup d'état (/ˌkuːdeɪˈtɑː/; plural: coups d'état), also known as a coup, a putsch, or an overthrow, is the sudden deposition of a government,[1][2][3][4] usually by a small group of the existing state establishment—typically the military—to depose the extant government and replace it with another body, civil or military. A coup d'état is considered successful when the usurpers establish their dominance. When the coup neither fails completely nor succeeds, a civil war is a likely consequence.

A coup d'état typically uses the extant government's power to assume political control of the country. In Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook, military historian Edward Luttwak states that "[a] coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder." The armed forces, whether military or paramilitary, are not a defining factor of a coup d'état. Lately a view that all coups are a danger to democracy and stability has been challenged by the notion of a "democratic coup d'état", which "respond to a popular uprising against an authoritarian or totalitarian regime and topple that regime for the limited purpose of holding the free and fair elections of civilian leaders."[5]

Etymology[edit | edit source]

The phrase coup d'État (French pronunciation: ​[ku deta]) is French, literally meaning a "stroke of state" or in practice a "blow against the state". In French the word "État", denoting a sovereign political entity, is capitalized.[6]

Although the coup d'état has featured in politics since antiquity, the phrase is of relatively recent coinage;[7] the Oxford Dictionary identifies it as a French expression meaning a "stroke of State". Since the unsuccessful coups d'état of Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 (the Kapp Putsch), the Swiss German word Putsch (pronounced [pʊtʃ]; coined for the Züriputsch of 1839) also denotes the same politico-military actions: in Metropolitan France, putsch denoted the 1942 and 1961 anti-government attacks in Algiers, and the 1991 August Putsch in the USSR; the German equivalent is Staatsstreich (the German literal translation of coup d'état), yet a putsch is not always a coup d'état, for example, the Beer Hall Putsch was by politicians without military support.

Usage of the phrase[edit | edit source]

Politically, a coup d'état is a usually violent political engineering,[citation needed] which affects who rules in the government, without radical changes in the form of the government, the political system. Tactically, a coup d'état involves control, by an active minority of usurpers, who block the remaining (non-participant) defenders of the state's possible defence of the attacked government, by either capturing or expelling the politico-military leaders, and seizing physical control of the country's key government offices, communications media, and infrastructure. It is to be noted that in the latest years there has been a broad use of the phrase in mass media, which may contradict the legal definition of "coup d'état". In looser usage (as in intelligence coup, boardroom coup) the term simply refers to gaining a sudden advantage on a rival.

Pronunciamiento[edit | edit source]

Pronunciamiento (pronouncement) is a Spanish and Latin American type of coup d'état. The coup d'état (called golpe de Estado in Spanish) was more common in Spain and South America, while the pronunciamiento was more common in Central America. The pronunciamiento is the formal explanation for deposing the regnant government, justifying the installation of the new government that was effected with the golpe de Estado. The difference between a coup and a pronunciamento is that in the former, a military, paramilitary and/or opposing political faction deposes the current civilian government and assumes power, in the latter, the military depose the civil government and install another civil government.[8]

History[edit | edit source]

Historically speaking, variations of coup d'état have been amongst the most common forms of governmental transition in human societies. In the modern day, coups d'état are common in Africa; between 1952 and 2000, thirty-three countries experienced 85 such depositions. Western Africa had most of them, 42; most were against civil regimes; 27 were against military regimes; and only in five were the deposed incumbents killed.[9] Moreover, as a change-of-government method, the incidence of the coup d'état has declined worldwide.

Types[edit | edit source]

The political scientist Samuel P. Huntington identifies three classes of coup d'état:

  • Breakthrough coup d'état: a revolutionary army overthrows a traditional government and creates a new bureaucratic elite. Generally led by mid-level or junior officers. Examples are China in 1911, Bulgaria in 1944, Egypt in 1952, Turkey in 1960, Greece in 1967, Libya in 1969, Portugal in 1974 and Liberia in 1980.
  • Guardian coup d'état: the "musical chairs" coup d'état. The stated aim of such a coup is usually improving public order and efficiency, and ending corruption. There usually is no fundamental change to the power structure. Generally, the leaders portray their actions as a temporary and unfortunate necessity. An early example is the coup d'état by consul Sulla, in 88 B.C., against supporters of Marius in Rome, after the latter attempted to strip him of a military command. An example from the Age of Enlightenment is Swedish king Gustav III's coup d'état in 1772, when he overthrew the government, instituted a new constitution with himself as an enlightened despot, all with massive popular consent. A contemporary instance is the civilian Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's overthrow by Chief of Army Staff General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1977, who cited widespread civil disorder and impending civil war as his justification. In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf overthrew Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the same grounds. Nations with guardian coups can frequently shift back and forth between civilian and military governments. Example countries include Pakistan, Turkey (1971 and 1980), and Thailand. A bloodless coup usually arises from the Guardian coup d'état.
  • Veto coup d'état: occurs when the army vetoes the people's mass participation and social mobilisation in governing themselves. In such a case, the army confronts and suppresses large-scale, broad-based civil opposition, tending to repression and killing, such as the coup d'état in Chile in 1973 against the elected Socialist President Salvador Allende by the Chilean military. The same happened in Argentina throughout the period 1930–1983, and was attempted in Russia in 1991.

A coup d'état is typed according to the military rank of the lead usurper.

  • The veto coup d'état and the guardian coup d'état are affected by the army's commanding officers.
  • The breakthrough coup d'état is effected by junior officers (colonels or lower rank) or non-commissioned officers (sergeants). When junior officers or enlisted men so seize power, the coup d'état is a mutiny with grave implications for the organizational and professional integrity of the military.
  • In a bloodless coup d'état, the threat of violence suffices to depose the incumbent. In 1889, Brazil became a republic via bloodless coup; in 1999, Pervez Musharraf assumed power in Pakistan via a bloodless coup; and, in 2006, Sonthi Boonyaratglin assumed power in Thailand as the leader of the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy.

The self-coup denotes an incumbent government – aided and abetted by the military – assuming extra-constitutional powers. A historical example is President, then Emperor, Louis Napoléon Bonaparte. Modern examples include Alberto Fujimori, in Peru, who, although elected, temporarily suspended the legislature and the judiciary in 1992, becoming an authoritarian ruler, and King Gyanendra's assumption of "emergency powers" in Nepal. Another form of self-coup is when a government, having been defeated in an election, refuses to step down.

Resistance to coups d'état[edit | edit source]

Many coups d'état, even if initially successful in seizing the main centres of state power, are actively opposed by certain segments of society or by the international community. Opposition can take many different forms, including an attempted counter-coup by sections of the armed forces, international isolation of the new regime, and military intervention.

Sometimes opposition takes the form of civil resistance, in which the coup is met with mass demonstrations from the population generally, and disobedience among civil servants and members of the armed forces. Cases in which civil resistance played a significant part in defeating armed coups d'état include: the Kornilov Putsch in Russia in August 1917; the Kapp Putsch in Berlin in March 1920; and the Generals' Revolt in Algiers in April 1961.[10] The coup in the Soviet Union on 19–21 August 1991 is another case in which civil resistance was part of an effective opposition to a coup: Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, stood on top of a tank in the centre of Moscow and urged people to refuse co-operation with the coup.

Post-military-coup governments[edit | edit source]

After the coup d'état, the military faces the matter of what type of government to establish. In Latin America, it was common for the post-coup government to be led by a junta, a committee of the chiefs of staff of the armed forces. A common form of African post-coup government is the revolutionary assembly, a quasi-legislative body elected by the army. In Pakistan, the military leader typically assumes the title of chief martial law administrator.

According to Huntington, most leaders of a coup d'état act under the concept of right orders: they believe that the best resolution of the country's problems is merely to issue correct orders. This view of government underestimates the difficulty of implementing government policy, and the degree of political resistance to certain correct orders. It presupposes that everyone who matters in the country shares a single, common interest, and that the only question is how to pursue that single, common interest.

Current leaders who assumed power via coups d'état[edit | edit source]

Title Name Assumed power Replaced Country
Sultan Qaboos of Oman[11]* 23 July 1970 Said bin Taimur  Oman
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo 3 August 1979 Francisco Macías Nguema  Equatorial Guinea
President Yoweri Museveni 29 January 1986 Tito Okello  Uganda
President Blaise Compaoré 15 October 1987 Thomas Sankara  Burkina Faso
President Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir 30 June 1989 Sadiq al-Mahdi  Sudan
President Idriss Déby 2 December 1990 Hissène Habré  Chad
President Yahya Jammeh[12]** 22 July 1994 Dawda Jawara  The Gambia
President Denis Sassou Nguesso 25 October 1997 Pascal Lissouba  Republic of the Congo
Prime Minister Hun Sen August 1997 Norodom Ranariddh  Cambodia
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama 5 December 2006 Laisenia Qarase  Fiji
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz*** 6 August 2008 Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi  Mauritania
President (of the High Transitional Authority) Andry Rajoelina 17 March 2009 Marc Ravalomanana  Madagascar
President (Acting) Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo**** 11 May 2012 Raimundo Pereira  Guinea-Bissau
President Michel Djotodia 24 March 2013 François Bozizé  Central African Republic
President (Acting) Adly Mansour[13]***** 3 July 2013 Mohamed Morsi  Egypt

* Monarch who overthrew his father in a bloodless palace coup.
** Subsequently confirmed in office by an apparently free and fair election.
*** Subsequently confirmed by a narrow margin in the Mauritanian presidential election, 2009, which was regarded as "satisfactory" by international observers.
**** Placed in office as part of transitional agreement following the 2012 Guinea-Bissau coup d'état.
***** Placed in office on an interim basis following the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état.

Other uses of the term[edit | edit source]

The term has also been used in a corporate context more specifically as boardroom coup. CEOs that have been sacked by behind-the-scenes maneuvering include Robert Stempel of General Motors[14][15] and John Akers of IBM, in 1992 and 1993, respectively.[16][17]

Steve Jobs attempted management coups twice at Apple Inc.; first in 1985 when he unsuccessfully tried to oust John Sculley and then again in 1997 which successfully forced Gil Amelio to resign.[18][19]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Legal thought in the United States of America under contemporary pressures: Reports from the United States of America on topics of major concern as established for the VIII Congress of the International Academy of Comparative Law Authors: International Academy of Comparative Law, American Association for the Comparative Study of Law Editors John Newbold Hazard, Wenceslas J. Wagner Publisher: Émile Bruylant, 1970 Length 689 pages p. 509 Quote: "But even if the most laudatory of motivations be assumed, the fact remains that the coup d'état'is a deliberately illegal act of the gravest kind and strikes at the highest level of law and order in society..."
  2. Coup d'etat: a practical handbook By Edward Luttwak p. 172 Quote: "Clearly the coup is by definition illegal, "
  3. USAID[dead link]
  4. Coup d'etat Definition from Auburn U. Quote: A quick and decisive extra-legal seizure of governmental power by a relatively small but highly organized group of political or military leaders...
  5. Ozan O. Varol, The Democratic Coup d’État, 53 Harv. Int'l L.J. 292 (2012).
  6. [http://66.46.185.79/bdl/gabarit_bdl.asp?t1=1&id=1285&D=%C9tat "Banque de d�pannage linguistique – �tat"]. Office québécois de la langue française. http://66.46.185.79/bdl/gabarit_bdl.asp?t1=1&id=1285&D=%C9tat. Retrieved 2012-12-12. 
  7. Julius Caesar's civil war, 5 Jan 49 BC.
  8. Edward Luttwak, Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook, Harvard University Press, 1969, 1980. ISBN 0-674-17547-6.
  9. George Klay Kieh, Jr. and Pita Ogaba Agbese (eds.), The Military and Politics in Africa, Ashgate Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0-7546-1876-5, pp. 44–5.
  10. Adam Roberts, ‘Civil Resistance to Military Coups’, Journal of Peace Research, Oslo, vol. 12, no. 1, 1975, pp. 19–36, covers these and some other cases.
  11. Allen, Calvin H.; Rigsbee, W. Lynn (2000). Oman Under Qaboos: From Coup to Constitution, 1970-1996. Frank Cass Publishers. 
  12. "The Gambia". http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/af/8377.htm. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  13. "Coup topples Egypt's Morsy; deposed president under 'house arrest'". CNN. 4 July 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/03/world/meast/egypt-protests/index.html?hpt=hp_t1. Retrieved 6 July 2013. 
  14. Bunkley, Nick (10 May 2011). "Robert C. Stempel Is Dead at 77; Led G.M. During a Troubled Period". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/business/11stempel.html?_r=1. 
  15. Miller, Stephen (11 May 2011). "Engineer Ran GM in Dark Early '90s". The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704681904576315561118103074.html. 
  16. Black, Larry (27 January 1993). "IBM fires Akers and slashes dividend". The Independent. London. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/ibm-fires-akers-and-slashes-dividend-1481080.html. 
  17. [1]
  18. Seibold, Chris (24 May 2011). "May 24, 1985: Jobs Fails to Oust Sculley". Apple Matters. http://www.applematters.com/article/may-24-1989-jobs-fails-to-oust-sculley. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  19. "Apple Formally Names Jobs as Interim Chief". The New York Times. New York. 17 September 1997. http://www.nytimes.com/library/cyber/week/091797apple.html. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

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